UBS Arena’s long-awaited opening is approaching fast, and that means it is all-hands-on-deck.
"We’re a week away, but it’s 24/7, nonstop," Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said during a media tour of the building on Thursday.
"As Tim told me, ‘Jon, don’t wear good clothes the last two days, because you’re going to be running around. You’re on trash detail to get all the trash out of here.’"
"Tim" is Tim Leiweke, CEO of the Oak View Group development company, which plans to have the arena ready for a private concert next Friday and the Islanders’ home opener against the Flames on Nov. 20.
It appeared on Thursday that there was a lot left to do. Even Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who was on hand to promote a branch of his chicken restaurant at the arena, took note of the work ahead.
"It’s still in pretty rough shape," O’Neal said, "but I know it will be ready by next Friday, and those [construction workers] deserve all the credit."
Ledecky said he plans to spend opening night partly in the parking lot — "because that’s a pain point" — and partly making sure that fans get into the building in a timely fashion.
But there inevitably will be glitches, and patience on everyone’s part is encouraged.
"It’s going to be bumpy in the beginning," Ledecky said. "We’re going to learn lessons in the beginning. But over time, it’s going to be fantastic."
On that, everyone seems to agree. The arena is gleaming and modern, with even the blue in the Islanders logo at center ice looking unusually vibrant.
Ledecky said UBS in large part is a product of input from hundreds of fans to whom he has spoken in recent years. One of their points of emphasis was inclusion. Most bars are open to anyone with a ticket.
"The most important thing is that all the fans think that they own the building," Ledecky said. "So they give me feedback as if they’re the owners of this arena."
Ledecky praised everyone involved for getting it done despite the challenges of working through a pandemic. "It’s been a long time to get this done," he said. "A lot of folks tried."
Ledecky and O’Neal met with a group of military veterans to celebrate Veterans Day. They unveiled a special seat dedicated to prisoners of war and those missing in action, symbolically leaving a place for them when they return.
UBS will be the second NHL arena for O’Neal’s growing "Big Chicken" chain, along with Seattle. But only at UBS can eaters buy a version on a blue-and-orange bagel (with cream cheese) from the Blue Line Deli in Huntington.
O’Neal said he enjoys watching hockey on television — "especially when they fight" — but does not know the rules, nor can he skate. "Hell, no," he said.
He called UBS "one of the best arenas I’ve seen." He wore an elaborately decorated Islanders jacket that he praised for fitting his 7-1, 325-pound frame. He said the Devils once gave him one that did not suit him.
"Their jacket didn’t fit," he said, "so now I’m an Islander."